AFTER BLOWING OUT DENVER, EAGLES ARE TEAM TO BEAT IN NFC
When the Eagles announced that tight end Zach Ertz, the go-to guy this season for Carson Wentz would be inactive against the visiting Denver Broncos Sunday due to a leg injury, there was a collective “No!” heard throughout Eagles Nation.
Multiple versions of “What will we do?” was seen on many social media posts.
Well, the answer was simple: throw to other tight ends, Brent Celek and Trey Burton.
Celek and Burton teamed up for five catches for 75 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown pass from Wentz to Burton helping the Birds overwhelm the quarterback-challenged Denver Broncos 51-23 at a raucous Lincoln Financial Field, raising the Eagles record to 8-1, tops in the NFL.
The Eagles head into their bye week with seven regular season left and the distinction of being the team to beat in the NFC.
Knowing how well the Broncos statistically top-rated defense can get after the quarterback, head coach Doug Pederson ran the ball 37 times for 197 yards and three touchdowns.
The strategy worked as All Pro pass rusher Von Miller had one garbage-time sack and a frustrated visiting team that committed 14 penalties for 105 yards.
“That is a good defense and that’s a good rushing defense and they are that way for a reason,” Pederson said at his post game press conference. “I just think that when you hear that all week — everybody’s got a lot of pride. They want to do their jobs and do them right. It’s a good test for our offensive line and they really stepped up to the occasion, and gosh, they rose up and did a nice job today.”
Wentz talked about how well the Eagles offense was able to dictate the pace of the game against a defense that is used to doing the dictating.
“The beautiful thing about what we did today is we were balanced,” said Wentz, who finished 15 of 27 for 199 yards, four touchdown passes, no interceptions, one sack. “We spread the ball around the way we did, both in the run game and in the throw game. Zach went down, obviously. We thought Ertz was going to be ready to play, and we didn’t miss a beat. We had Celek and Trey step up and make some big plays. That’s just how we’re wired, that’s how we’re built – next guy up – and shoot, the O-line, hats off to them. Against that D-line, that front seven – I hear all about them and that’s a great defense – so our O-line really handled some business today. It was a good team win.”
The game was decided by halftime when the Eagles led 31-9. Wentz hit Alshon Jeffery for a 32-yard touchdown pass to go up 7-3, then after Jake Elliott’s 45-yard field goal, Wentz hit rookie Corey Clement with a 15-yard TD pass over the middle, and it was 17-3 after one quarter.
The Eagles continued to pour it on. Wentz hit Burton for his score followed by newcomer Jay Ajayi’s electric 46-yard touchdown run to take the Birds into the locker room at intermission.
Jeffery finished with six catches for 84 yards and two touchdowns. Ajayi led the team in rushing with 77 yards on eight carries.
Former Eagles guard Allen Barbre, traded this summer to Denver, made his first appearance in Philadelphia, talked about how the Eagles defense can take a team out of its comfort zone.
“We got a little bit behind early and I think it just changes the dynamic of your offense and what you do,” Barbre said. “You game plan all week. We’ve just got to do a better job early, come out early and make sure we keep getting points on the board, no turnovers early…we have to keep detailing every day.”
Right tackle Lane Johnson led an offensive line that was in its second week without All Pro right tackle Jason Peters.
Johnson said he knew he had to keep Miller from setting the tone for the Denver front seven. He did that.
“I was watching him on film saw just how destructive he is,” Johnson said. “He can really take over a game. I just wanted to neutralize him the best I could. I had a good game against him. As far as confidence goes, it was a boost to my confidence a little bit. Everything we want is in front of us the next seven games. We’ll take this week off, come back and get back at it.”
Clement talked about his journey: Being a free agent long shot, to scoring three times on the top rated defense in the NFL.
“It feels great,” said Clement, who finished with 51 yards rushing on 12 carries. “At the same time, I’m just always going to push it (accolades) to the side and just keep it going. This team is definitely going to keep getting more and more better as the season goes on. It’s not going to be easier but, a the same time, when it’s not easy, I think everyone puts out for an even better outcome. The competition really sharpens who can really ball out there.”
Safety Malcolm Jenkins was all over the field. He knocked down two passes, was credited with a quarterback hurry and a special teams tackle.
The Broncos rushed for just 35 yards on 18 carries (1.8 yards per carry). Brock Osweiler was 19 of 38 for 208 yards, one touchdown pass (in the fourth quarter). He threw two interceptions, suffered three sacks and earned his quarterback rating of 53.4.
Jenkins was asked about the impact of showing that the Eagles defense is as good as Denver’s defense.
“It’s huge,” Jenkins said. “We are obviously a defense that’s on the rise when it comes to notoriety and what we’re doing. We’re proving everything week in and week out. Coming into this game, all we heard about was the Broncos’ defense, and they’re coming to our house. It’s one of those things that we felt like this is an opportunity for us to make a statement and an opportunity for us to showcase what we are as not only a defense, but as a team, against a really good ball club and obviously we got the results that we wanted.”
Ajayi talked about his first touchdown, not only for the season but as an Eagle.
“Special,” Ajayi said. “First off, it’s my first touchdown of the season and it’s exciting for it to have been in Philly and during my first game as an Eagle. I don’t think it could have been written any better than that.”
Ajayi talked about the Eagles offensive line:
“Yes…special offensive line,” said Ajayi, who was born in England and speaks with a slight British accent. “Definitely believe we can do a lot of special things here. Great running back room and glad to be part of the dynamic that we have in there. I mean look, that’s a great defense that we just ran on. We put 200 yards on that team over there. So I think you have to tip your hat to all of us that ran the ball today. I think we all did some special things out there.”
The Eagles next game is in Dallas on Sunday Night Football on December 19.
Johnson was asked about how much better it was to have their bye week come after their ninth game as opposed to after just three games last year. The Birds were 3-0 at the time and the bye seemed to hurt their momentum.
“Yes, it’s after the middle of the season, perfect scenario,” Johnson said. “Some guys get their bye week two, week three, not ideal, but I’m happy. A lot of guys have worked hard, so if we can have this city feeling good for a week or two, so be it. I’m excited and like I said, everything’s in front of us.”
Barbre seemed a bit wistful when he talked about the team he had been a member of from 2013 to 2016. You could see in his face he misses being an Eagle and that he may have missed his best opportunity to get a ring.
“They look good,” Barbre said. “They’ve got a good offense, they’ve got a good defense, they’ve got good special teams. They’ve got a good group of guys…I was here (Philly) for a long time…things are clicking for them, they’ve got a hell of a quarterback.”
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii